AskDefine | Define sense

Dictionary Definition



1 a general conscious awareness; "a sense of security"; "a sense of happiness"; "a sense of danger"; "a sense of self"
2 the meaning of a word or expression; the way in which a word or expression or situation can be interpreted; "the dictionary gave several senses for the word"; "in the best sense charity is really a duty"; "the signifier is linked to the signified" [syn: signified]
3 the faculty through which the external world is apprehended; "in the dark he had to depend on touch and on his senses of smell and hearing" [syn: sensation, sentience, sentiency, sensory faculty]
4 sound practical judgment; "I can't see the sense in doing it now"; "he hasn't got the sense God gave little green apples"; "fortunately she had the good sense to run away" [syn: common sense, good sense, gumption, horse sense, mother wit]
5 a natural appreciation or ability; "a keen musical sense"; "a good sense of timing"


1 perceive by a physical sensation, e.g., coming from the skin or muscles; "He felt the wind"; "She felt an object brushing her arm"; "He felt his flesh crawl"; "She felt the heat when she got out of the car" [syn: feel]
2 detect some circumstance or entity automatically; "This robot can sense the presence of people in the room"; "particle detectors sense ionization"
3 become aware of not through the senses but instinctively; "I sense his hostility"
4 comprehend; "I sensed the real meaning of his letter"

User Contributed Dictionary

see Sense




  • , /sɛns/, /sEns/
  • Rhymes: -ɛns


  1. One of the methods for a living being to gather data about the world; sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste.
  2. A general conscious awareness.
    a sense of security
  3. Sound practical judgment, as in common sense
  4. The meaning, reason, or value of something.
    You don’t make any sense.
  5. A natural appreciation or ability
    A keen musical sense
  6. In the context of "pragmatics": The way that a referent is presented.
  7. In the context of "semantics": A single conventional use of a word; one of the entries for a word in a dictionary.


method to gather data
  • Catalan: sentit
  • Czech: smysl
  • Dutch: zintuig
  • French: sens
  • German: Sinn
  • Hebrew: חוש
  • Italian: senso
  • Japanese: 感覚
  • Polish: zmysł
  • Portuguese: sentido
  • Slovene: čutilo , čut
  • Spanish: sentido
  • Swedish: sinne
conscious awareness
  • Arabic:
  • Catalan: sensació
  • Chinese: 感覺, 感觉 (gǎnjué)
  • Danish: fornemmelse
  • Dutch: gevoel, gewaarwording
  • Finnish: tunto
  • French: sens
  • German: Gefühl, Sinn
  • Hebrew: תחושה
  • Hungarian: érzés
  • Irish: ciall
  • Italian: senso, coscienza, sensazione
  • Japanese: 感覚, 意識
  • Korean: 감각
  • Portuguese: senso
  • Russian: чувство
  • Scots Gaellic: ciall , brìgh , mothachadh , faireachdainn , cudthrom
  • Slovene: občutek
  • Spanish: sensación
  • Swedish: sinne
  • Telugu: స్పృహ (spRha)
sound judgement
  • Dutch: (gezond) verstand
  • French: sens
  • German: Sinn
  • Hebrew: הגיון
  • Irish: ciall
  • Italian: senso
  • Japanese: 感覚, 意識, 分別
  • Portuguese: sentido
  • Swedish: förnuft , förstånd , sinne
meaning or reason
  • Croatian: smisao
  • French: sens
  • German: Verstand
  • Irish: ciall
  • Italian: senso, significato,
  • Japanese: 意味
  • Polish: sens
  • Portuguese: sentido
  • Slovene: smisel
  • Swedish: mening, bemärkelse
natural ability
  • German: Sinn
  • Hebrew: חוש
  • Irish: ciall
  • Japanese: 感覚, センス
  • Portuguese: sentido, senso
pragmatics term
semantics term
  • Arabic:
  • Catalan: significat
  • Chinese: 意義, 意义 (yìyì)
  • Czech: smysl, význam
  • Dutch: betekenis
  • Finnish: merkitys
  • French: sens
  • German: Sinn, Bedeutung
  • Hebrew: מובן
  • Hungarian: értelem
  • Irish: ciall
  • Italian: senso
  • Japanese: 意味
  • Korean: 감각 (gamgak)
  • Portuguese: sentido
  • Russian: смысл
  • Slovene: pomen
  • Spanish: significado, acepción
  • Swedish: betydelse


  1. To use biological senses: to either smell, watch, taste, hear or feel.
  2. To instinctively be aware.
    She immediately sensed her disdain.
  3. To comprehend.


use biological senses
to instinctively be aware
  • Dutch: voelen
  • Japanese: 感じる, 察する, 気づく
  • Portuguese: sentir
to comprehend
  • Japanese: 感じる, 察する, 気づく




Extensive Definition

Senses are the physiological methods of perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology (or cognitive science), and philosophy of perception. The nervous system has a specific sensory system, or organ, dedicated to each sense.

Definition of sense

There is no firm agreement among neurologists as to the number of senses because of differing definitions of what constitutes a sense. One definition states that an exteroceptive sense is a faculty by which outside stimuli are perceived. The traditional five senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste: a classification attributed to Aristotle. Humans also have at least six additional senses (a total of eleven including interoceptive senses) that include: nociception (pain), equilibrioception (balance), proprioception & kinesthesia (joint motion and acceleration), sense of time, thermoception (temperature differences), and in some a weak magnetoception (direction).
One commonly recognized catagorisation for human senses is as follows: chemoreception; photoreception; mechanoreception; and thermoception. Indeed, all human senses fit into one of these four categories.
Different senses also exist in other organisms, for example electroreception.
A broadly acceptable definition of a sense would be "a system that consists of a group sensory cell types that responds to a specific physical phenomenon, and that corresponds to a particular group of regions within the brain where the signals are received and interpreted." Disputes about the number of senses arise typically regarding the classification of the various cell types and their mapping to regions of the brain.



Sight or vision is the ability of the brain and eye to detect electromagnetic waves within the visible range (light) interpreting the image as "sight." There is disagreement as to whether this constitutes one, two or three senses. Neuroanatomists generally regard it as two senses, given that different receptors are responsible for the perception of colour (the frequency of photons of light) and brightness (amplitude/intensity - number of photons of light). Some argue that stereopsis, the perception of depth, also constitutes a sense, but it is generally regarded as a cognitive (that is, post-sensory) function of brain to interpret sensory input and to derive new information. The inability to see is called blindness.


Hearing or audition is the sense of sound perception. Since sound is vibrations propagating through a medium such as air, the detection of these vibrations, that is the sense of the hearing, is a mechanical sense akin to a sense of touch, albeit a very specialized one. In humans, this perception is executed by tiny hair fibres in the inner ear which detect the motion of a membrane which vibrates in response to changes in the pressure exerted by atmospheric particles within a range of 20 to 22000 Hz, with substantial variation between individuals. Sound can also be detected as vibrations conducted through the body by tactition. Lower and higher frequencies than that can be heard are detected this way only. The inability to hear is called deafness.


Taste or gustation is one of the two main "chemical" senses. There are at least four types of tastes that "buds" (receptors) on the tongue detect, and hence there are anatomists who argue that these constitute five or more different senses, given that each receptor conveys information to a slightly different region of the brain. The inability to taste is called ageusia.
The four well-known receptors detect sweet, salt, sour, and bitter, although the receptors for sweet and bitter have not been conclusively identified. A fifth receptor, for a sensation called umami, was first theorised in 1908 and its existence confirmed in 2000. The umami receptor detects the amino acid glutamate, a flavor commonly found in meat and in artificial flavourings such as monosodium glutamate.
Note that taste is not the same as flavor; flavor includes the smell of a food as well as its taste.


Smell or olfaction is the other "chemical" sense. Unlike taste, there are hundreds of olfactory receptors, each binding to a particular molecular feature. Odor molecules possess a variety of features and thus excite specific receptors more or less strongly. This combination of excitatory signals from different receptors makes up what we perceive as the molecule's smell. In the brain, olfaction is processed by the olfactory system. Olfactory receptor neurons in the nose differ from most other neurons in that they die and regenerate on a regular basis. The inability to smell is called anosmia.


Touch, also called tactition, mechanoreception or somatic sensation, is the sense of pressure perception, generally in the skin. There are a variety of nerve endings that respond to variations in pressure (e.g., firm, brushing, and sustained). The inability to feel anything or almost anything is called anesthesia. Paresthesia is a sensation of tingling, pricking, or numbness of a person's skin with no apparent long term physical effect.


Balance, Equilibrioception, or vestibular sense, is the sense which allows an organism to sense body movement, direction and speed, and to attain and maintain postural equilibrium. The organ of equilibrioception is the vestibular labyrinthine system found in both of the inner ears. Technically this organ is responsible for two senses, angular momentum and linear acceleration (which also senses gravity), but they are known together as equilibrioception.
The vestibular nerve conducts information from the three semicircular canals, corrisponding to the three spatial planes, the utricle, and the saccule. The ampulla, or base, portion of the three semicircular canals each contain a structure called a crista. These bend in response to angular momentum or spinning. The saccule and utricle, also called the "otolith organs", sense linear acceleration and thus gravity. Otoliths are small crystals of calcium carbonate that provide the inertia needed to detect changes in acceleration or gravity.

Non-human senses

Analogous to human senses

Other living organisms have receptors to sense the world around them, including many of the senses listed above for humans. However, the mechanisms and capabilities vary widely.


Among non-human species, dogs have a much keener sense of smell than humans, although the mechanism is similar. Insects have olfactory receptors on their antennae.


Cats have the ability to see in the dark due to muscles surrounding their irises to contract and expand pupils as well as the tapetum lucidum, a reflective membrane that optimizes the image. Pit vipers and some boas have organs that allow them to detect infrared light, such that these snakes are able to sense the body heat of their prey. The common vampire bat may also have an infrared sensor on its nose. Infrared senses are, however, just sight in a different light frequency range. It has been found that birds and some other animals are tetrachromats and have the ability to see in the ultraviolet down to 300 nanometers. Bees are also able to see in the ultraviolet.


Ctenophores have a balance receptor (a statocyst) that works very differently from the mammalian's semi-circular canals.

Not analogous to human senses

In addition, some animals have senses that humans do not, including the following:
  • Electroception (or "electroreception"), the most significant of the non-human senses, is the ability to detect electric fields. Several species of fish, sharks and rays have the capacity to sense changes in electric fields in their immediate vicinity. Some fish passively sense changing nearby electric fields; some generate their own weak electric fields, and sense the pattern of field potentials over their body surface; and some use these electric field generating and sensing capacities for social communication. The mechanisms by which electroceptive fish construct a spatial representation from very small differences in field potentials involve comparisons of spike latencies from different parts of the fish's body.
The only order of mammals that is known to demonstrate electroception is the monotreme order. Among these mammals, the platypus has the most acute sense of electroception.
Body modification enthusiasts have experimented with magnetic implants to attempt to replicate this sense, however in general humans (and probably other mammals) can detect electric fields only indirectly by detecting the effect they have on hairs. An electrically charged balloon, for instance, will exert a force on human arm hairs, which can be felt through tactition and identified as coming from a static charge (and not from wind or the like). This is however not electroception as it is a post-sensory cognitive action.
  • Echolocation is the ability to determine orientation to other objects through interpretation of reflected sound (like sonar). Bats and cetaceans are noted for this ability, though some other animals use it, as well. It is most often used to navigate through poor lighting conditions or to identify and track prey. There is currently an uncertainty whether this is simply an extremely developed post-sensory interpretation of auditory perceptions or it actually constitutes a separate sense. Resolution of the issue will require brain scans of animals while they actually perform echolocation, a task that has proven difficult in practice. Blind people report they are able to navigate by interpreting reflected sounds (esp. their own footsteps), a phenomenon which is known as Human echolocation.
  • Magnetoception (or "magnetoreception") is the ability to detect fluctuations in magnetic fields and is most commonly observed in birds, though it has also been observed in insects such as bees. Although there is no dispute that this sense exists in many avians (it is essential to the navigational abilities of migratory birds), it is not a well-understood phenomenon. There is experimental and physical evidence to suggest this sense exists in a weak form in humans.
Magnetotactic bacteria build miniature magnets inside themselves and use them to determine their orientation relative to the Earth's magnetic field.
  • Pressure detection uses the lateral line, which is a pressure-sensing system of hairs found in fish and some aquatic amphibians. It is used primarily for navigation, hunting, and schooling. Humans have a basic relative-pressure detection ability when eustachian tube(s) are blocked, as demonstrated in the ear's response to changes in altitude.
  • Polarized light direction / detection is used by bees to orient themselves, especially on cloudy days. Cuttlefish can also perceive the polarization of light.

See also


External links

sense in Catalan: Sentit
sense in Czech: Smysl (biologie)
sense in Danish: Sans (organisme)
sense in German: Sinn (Wahrnehmung)
sense in Spanish: Sentido
sense in Esperanto: Senso
sense in French: Sens (physiologie)
sense in Korean: 감각
sense in Ido: Senso
sense in Indonesian: Indera
sense in Icelandic: Skynfæri
sense in Italian: Organi di senso
sense in Hebrew: חוש
sense in Dutch: Zintuig
sense in Japanese: 感覚
sense in Polish: Zmysł
sense in Portuguese: Sentido
sense in Russian: Ощущение
sense in Simple English: Sense
sense in Finnish: Aisti
sense in Swedish: Sinne
sense in Turkish: Duyu
sense in Walloon: Cénk sinses
sense in Yiddish: שפיראכץ
sense in Chinese: 感官

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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